My Turn

Praising ‘Crappy' Promotions

2/27/2009 10:46 AM

When the going gets tough, the tough get going — even if it’s to the bathroom.

I learned that from the funniest story I heard at the NCTC winter education conference this past week. It was told by Dave Swan, the director of hardware/national accounts at the National Cable Television Cooperative, about his days at Time Warner Cable in Tampa, Fla., selling cable services to businesses.

He told it on a panel session about business and commercial services on Tuesday at the conference in Charlotte, N.C., and later insisted it was word-for-word true.

Dave Swan/NCTC/Greendoor Imaging“My sales had kind of run stale and I couldn’t really figure out what we could do to give this thing a shot in the arm,” he began.

He gathered all the ads from his company and his competitors in the Tampa Bay area and laid them out to see if anything stood out among them. He asked his 6-year-old daughter to pick out which was daddy’s. She said she couldn’t, because they all looked the same.

“I pretty abruptly the next day went upstairs to see my VP of marketing, [who] has no sense of humor, by the way, to tell him that his marketing was stale and that I’d like to do a promotion on my own.”

Swan said he had in mind $20,000 for a cigar bar, cocktails, and lots of people. The marketing VP called back about an hour later and said: “Here, I got you a couple of thousand dollars for what he deemed my crappy little promotion. He didn’t know what it was. So, being a little bit stubborn myself, I was bound and determined to give this man a crappy little promotion.”

Swan hit on the idea of the ads above the urinals in men’s bathrooms at restaurants and sporting arenas - a captive audience of men, and most of Swan’s prospective customer base was male.

With about $400 left over, he decided to put in the urinals “a little fragrance cake with my competitor’s name on it” and a Ghostbusters-type slash. “On my advertisement, I put: ‘Take aim at high Internet business prices.’ “Urinal ads

The next day, Swan and some colleagues were at the same stadium where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers NFL team played on Sunday, attending a local game on Saturday, he said. Naturally, the marketing VP was part of his group and, predictably, he went into the men’s room where, of course, the ads were placed.

Two minutes later, Swan said, he heard the marketer yell. “He comes running out and, this is no kidding, his shirttail is zipped up in his zipper. He looked like he’d hurdled a sprinkler.

“And he goes, ‘Dave, what have you done? We’re in a bathroom stall mall!’ I said, ‘Well you wanted a crappy promotion, didn’t you, that’s pretty crappy.’

“And he said, ‘But Dave you’ve got the competitor in a toilet.’ I go, ‘Isn’t it my job to put the competitor in the toilet?’
“And he goes, ‘But Dave, they’re going to be pissed off.’ I said, ‘You mean pissed on.’

“Well, I was in a lot of trouble, and he said wait ‘til Monday. This guy certainly had more bars on his sleeve than I did.”

Monday morning, Swan said, he checked the phone messages for sales called in over the weekend. “Our message center could hold up to about 300 messages. It was full.

“I decided to check the Web site where people could order online. I had over 150 sales online — because there was a big Bucs’ game that weekend and there was a lot going on. We also were 20 calls deep at the call center that morning.

Dave Swan“Needless to say, I didn’t get into any more trouble. However, anything I did from then on out required a signature.”